The Corinthian Christians had bought the world’s wisdom hook, line, and sinker and it was about to destroy the Lord’s church. In today’s reading, Paul continues to guide and direct them toward transformational living.
The divine order — 1 Cor. 11:1-16
Submission is hard, especially in our radically independent culture. We’re born always wanting our own way, and we are socialized to think that no one should tell us what to do. We chafe at and rebel against authority of any sort. Time for some transformational thinking, some wisdom from God (contrasted to the wisdom of the world). Apparently one of the problems of the church in Corinth was that some of the sisters of the congregation were pushing for greater liberty than was appropriate. This is the cause for Paul reminding the church about God’s divine order: 1 Corinthians 11:3 “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” It really must be noted here that this order is not a matter of superiority and inferiority — it is a matter submission. The inspired Scriptures tell us (Philippians 2:5, 6) “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” The Father and the Son are equal, but the Son is in submission to the Father; Christ’s obedience is not due to inferiority but voluntary recognition of authority. Now, it is certainly true that man is inferior to Christ, and we should obey due to that; and although women are not inferior to men, they — according to God’s command — should recognize male authority. Whether in marriage, the family, or the church, God has given His authority to men.
And by the way, submission to authority is not just for females. God has given authority to governments, parents, teachers, etc., which we are to obey, unless their direction runs contrary to God’s commands (Romans 13).
The Lord’s Supper — 1 Cor. 11:17-34
The Lord’s Supper is not a snack, not just a part of a larger meal, and certainly not something to be sniffed at. Unfortunately, this was the way that the Table of the Lord was being treated in Corinth. Some were coming to the assembly early (probably the more affluent) and scarfing down the agape dinner (a common fellowship meal) along with the bread and wine that were part of communion. When later brethren came (probably the less affluent, like slaves who have no choice about when they could come) there was nothing left for them — and there was no communion. To the rich, Paul commanded that if they were really that hungry, they should eat before they came to the assembly. They needed to put the community back into communion, because communion isn’t only about the vertical (man to God) angle, it is also about the horizontal (man to man) angle, too.
But as much as communion is about the fellowship of the saints, it is not just another family dinner; it’s about Jesus, about what He did on the cross for us, in remembrance of Him. It is the focus of the assembly, a central event to refocus each Christian’s life each week. Failing to see this meal for what it is — not judging the body rightly — is a serious spiritual error. It is not a time for making shopping lists, it’s not a time to write notes to your pew neighbor. It is a time to make the most of the special vertical and horizontal relationships that Jesus has made possible. Please make the Lord’s Supper the special event it deserves to be, for the Lord, for the church, for yourself.
The interdependency of the body of Christ — 1 Cor. 12
This was a gifted church. Since the miraculous gifts (in Greek “charismata”) were passed on by the hands of the apostles (see Acts 8:1ff), Paul had apparently passed on a number of miraculous gifts for the purpose of edification of the church and evangelism. The problem was that there were some gifts that were considered flashier than others — the ability to “speak in tongues” was one of the more coveted gifts — while others were OK but considered generally to be far more pedestrian and mundane. Those with the gift of tongues were making those who could merely prophesy or heal feel inferior and unimportant; this was part of the division and worldly wisdom that the brethren were still clinging to. So help them transform themselves by the renewing of their minds, he uses the illustration of a body. Every body part (member or organ) is important. Even though some parts are more public and talented, no member’s function can be ignored. To do so either makes the whole body sick or crippled, or can even kill the body. So also with the church — every member is necessary, no member should be held in contempt, no gift should be sniffed at. Every gift, whether charismatic or not, was necessary for the proper functioning of the whole.
This is such an important principle for Christians to grasp. You are needed, not just by the church but by the Lord, who put you in the church Himself, gifted in whatever way you are gifted, for a reason. Live up to your purpose, your crucial purpose! The church is interdependent, just like your body.
The more excellent way — 1 Cor. 13
Envy, jealousy, pride, division — these are the world’s ways. Thinking of the church as a body is a better way. But Paul wanted them to ponder the more excellent way, love. Although this definition from Paul is far from complete and specially fitted to the Corinthian’s need, it does give us a great deal of depth and a great look at how the command needs to be applied to life.
And the reason that love was the more excellent way, Paul tells us, is that these gifts were all destined to fade and go away, while love and fellowship would last. These miraculous gifts were never intended to last forever in the church, anymore than scaffolding is intended to remain around a building after it’s finished. The miracles helped teach the church and spread the church (the purpose of speaking in tongues and some other “authenticating” miracles). But once the church had been “launched” properly, there would be no more purpose for them. Some have argued that “the perfect” mentioned here might be everything from love itself to the second coming of the Lord. There are solid Greek grammar reasons why these are not so. All the proposed antecedents of “the perfect” are the wrong grammatical gender. And the only correct gendered noun in the larger context is the word “charismata”, spiritual gift. In other words, the partial spiritual gifts will fade away when the perfect spiritual gift comes. What is the perfect spiritual gift? I think it’s completed New Testament Scriptures. They do everything that the partial spiritual gifts did (authentication of God’s word and distribution of God’s word) only permanently in book form.
All for edification — 1 Cor. 14
So much of what was going on in the assembly in Corinth was “all about me” — “Look at my gift, listen to what I can do; who cares about you?” What Paul wanted them to do was consider each other. All things were to be done for building each other up. Here’s an important principle for us — again. Rather than coming to church focused on self, the Christian needs to be focused on our brothers and sisters. The reason why people sometimes feel like they’ve not gotten anything out of church is that they’ve put nothing into it — they’ve served no one, they’ve edified no one. This is more of this transformational thinking and behavior. The worldly mind comes to church to get, the transformed mind comes to give. The worldly mind leaves empty, the transformed life leaves filled.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.